Monday, January 13, 2014

My People

I work with special needs preschoolers. I love my work. I bring music and creative movement to sixteen schools in the Howard County School System. My students have a wide variety of abilities and disabilities. But they have one vital characteristic in common.

They are all beautiful.

It does not matter if they are not typically developing preschoolers. It does not matter if their bodies are not fully symmetrical, or their behaviors are difficult or unexpected. They are beautiful human beings who deserve care, respect and a chance to learn, grow, and enjoy life.

In our culture we tend to support the adorable-ness of babies and young children. So, even though some of these children might not look "normal", they are more easily accepted as "cute". We just love "cute", don't we? We open our hearts and minds to it.

Occasionally I run into groups of developmentally disabled adults when I am shopping. It might be the grocery, the dollar store, or Five Below. There may only be four or five of them, with helpers and caregivers, having a much-needed outing and life experience.

Other customers shrink from them. People cast sidelong glances, whisper to each other, move away. These people, my people, aren't cute anymore. They are full-sized, funny-looking, maybe even frightening. There is a strong sense of other-ness about them.

Somehow, some of these beautiful children I am teaching now will be those adults in the dollar store. They won't be cute anymore. People will avoid them. And yet they are the same human beings who deserve care, respect, and a chance to learn, grow, and enjoy life.

There are many challenges involved in integrating special needs children into the regular classroom setting. As students get older and the focus is more on academic achievement, the strains on both them and teachers and support staff are tremendous. But as I watch my daughter grow up in schools where she actually has some contact with these kids, I feel a spark of hope.

Maybe, when she is an adult, she will not be afraid of my beautiful people. Perhaps she might even know one of them. If this is a life experience that she gains along the way, I will be extremely grateful.


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